I’ve written before about the similarities and differences between teaching students and treating patients. But it is only now that they have become so striking. In an otherwise compelling essay, an orthopedic surgeon asserts: “No other profession would put up with this kind of scrutiny and coercion from outside forces” (“A Doctor’s Declaration of Independence,” The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 29). The doctor was referring to the mandates and outside interference that prevent him and his colleagues from doing their job as they were trained to do.
However, the doctor is wrong about one thing: He forgot to include public school teachers. At no time in American history have classroom teachers been subjected to as much pressure from outsiders about what and how they teach. High-stakes standardized tests designed by giant education publishing companies now determine teachers’ pay and retention; grades given to schools; and rankings of teachers’ colleges.
Teachers are expected to overcome huge deficits that their students bring to school, and are lambasted when they fail to do so. But doctors are not held accountable if their patients are not cured when they continue to engage in unhealthful habits. Although in both cases there are factors beyond the control of the respective practitioners, only teachers are expected to perform miracles.
When I began teaching in 1964, teachers had enormous freedom compared to today. Teaching was fun. Now teaching is treated strictly as a service industry. Reformers demand quantifiable evidence about everything that takes place in the classroom. Naming and shaming individual teachers is defended as a motivational strategy. As one quipster put it: The beatings will continue until morale improves.
I understand why doctors are tired of the intrusions into their professional practice. But they are not alone. Ask any teacher.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.